Arsenal‘s new chief executive Vinai Venkatesham has defended the club’s restructuring and suggested the Gunners could “afford to miss out” on Champions League football next season.
Earlier on Thursday, Mikel Arteta’s job title was changed from “head coach” to “first-team manager,” which was the latest move in a wider overhaul aimed at improving the Gunners’ operations.
Head of football Raul Sanllehi left the club last month in a reshuffle which sees Venkatesham switch from managing director while technical director Edu works closer with Arteta to identify first-team players.
The club have also released a raft of long-serving scouts and made 55 non-playing staff redundant as they also adjust to the loss of revenue created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Senior executives have taken pay cuts, as did the entire first-team squad aside from Mesut Ozil, and Venkatesham said: “I’ve been at this club for 10 years and this is not a big organisation, we don’t have hundreds of thousands of employees all around the world.
“We’ve got hundreds of employees all based within 30 miles of each other. I know the people, I know their families, I know people very closely. So, to make a decision that we had to propose redundancies was really, really tough and we did that for the right reasons.
“Unfortunately we see a different economy ahead and we needed to restructure our organisation and make a really tough decision and unfortunately my job is about making hard decisions to make sure that we have the right structure going forward to make sure we are leaner, faster and equipped to deal with a different economy and that’s really tough. I would be lying if I said there had not been sleepless nights.”
Arsenal have signed Willian and Cedric on free transfers in addition to extending David Luiz‘s contract, renewing Dani Ceballos‘ loan from Real Madrid and spending £23 million on Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille.
Top agent Kia Joorabchian played a pivotal role in the transfers of Willian, Cedric and Luiz, leading to claims that he was having an overt influence on the club’s recruitment but Venkatesham said: “We don’t select players based on the identity of their agent. We select players based on the position we need to strengthen and the characteristics we are looking for in a player and if the player is out there who meets those characteristics.
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“Who the agent is comes out at the end, once we have decided who the player is. We are not signing players based on the identity of the agent. That would be a crazy strategy.”
Edu led much of the scouting restructuring to shift focus back to the use of data-driven recruitment with an emphasis on using StatDNA, a previously U.S.-based data analytics company which the Gunners purchased in 2014 and took in-house.
“With my position here I want to put in place one clear process how we are going to sign, who gets the responsibilities, where we start to understand where we need the player, the position we need, the characteristics we need,” said Edu, who spent four years at Arsenal as a player between 2001 and 2005. “That has to be very clear internally right now.
“The decision we made, to change a little bit our infrastructure, it is clear for me. I want to work with less people. I want to work with StatDNA a lot more, which we have internally here at the club and is very important. The people I want to work with, I want them to be very close to me. I want to create a group of people working together.
“I don’t want individual people working in one area or for one country. I want a group working together. Less people with much more responsibilities. That is my vision and for me in this process the most important thing is that everyone is very clear on the responsibilities which everyone has to make the right decision.”
Despite the financial pressures Arsenal are contending with, Venkatesham believes the club could cope with missing out on Champions League football this season.
The Gunners last competed in Europe’s premier competition in 2017. But when asked by ESPN whether Arsenal could afford another year without Champions League, Venkatesham said: “I would say we can afford to miss out. If you miss out on European qualification you have to cut your cloth accordingly. So yes, we can afford to miss out. But if we want to achieve what we need to achieve going back to the ambitions point then we need to get back to being a Champions League club.
“Yes, it is important economically. But it is also what the fans want. They want us playing on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, preferably with them in the stadium rather than on a Thursday. I am not trying to be negative about the Europa League. It is an important competition and you know how seriously we take that competition. But we want to be back in the Champions League. We need to re-establish ourselves there.”
Ozil’s £350,000-a-week wage continues to cause issues at a club streamlining elsewhere but Edu insisted the door was open for the German playmaker to revive his career as he enters the final year of his contract.
“Here, we are talking of course about performance,” said Edu. “Players with performance in training, the game, they are going to have opportunities because Mikel already showed that. It is for everyone.
“We know how important everybody is. I know how important and how big the player is when you mention Mesut but in the end, we are talking about performance here.
“If he is performing well, people are performing well, who is the best in the training, the best in the game, I’m sure Mikel is going to select them to be in the squads to play games or to be on the bench.”